Q&A With Francis Ford Coppola

The iconic director on owing the bank $25 million and why he hasn’t made a film in eight years.

"A young filmmaker has one quality that is very, very valuable, which is basically stupidity. He attempts things because he doesn't know how dumb they are".

Q: Your new cut of The Outsiders has the hopped-up energy of adolescence. Did your own youth inform that?

A: I had the typical unhappy childhood. I had lots of raging feelings and confusions in those days-sexual issues where, like, nobody explained anything. Things were happening that I thought were unique to me, and I developed passionate crushes on girls in school who didn't even know I was there. I can remember very heartbreaking times-the loneliness of having no friends and wanting to have friends, wanting to have a girlfriend and not even having the confidence to let them know I existed.

Q: Apocalypse Now was supposed to ruin you but didn't. Then One From the Heart did.

A: One From the Heart, which was the movie I made to save me from the ruin! All I had to do was do nothingand I would have been very well-off.

Q: But you made it, and it put you in severe debt.

A: Oh, definitely. I owed the Chase Manhattan Bank $25 million. Or maybe it was 22. I don't remember. I was younger-I mean, I felt invulnerable in those days, which is to say, Well, I could make it again if I lost it. And I did. I still take risks. I don't take little risks. I take big risks. And most of the time that works out.

Q: We're taught that the secret of success is to focus on one thing, and yet you've had success with films, a winery, your hotel resorts, a literary magazine . . .

A: I remember when Sofia was 18 or 19, she told me, "Oh, I want to be a fashion designer, and I want to be a painter, and I want to be a photographer"-incidentally, she never wanted to be an actress-"Am I just a dilettante?" And I said, "No. Pursue all the things you love, because who knows, in the future there may be new combinations of things." Specialization is less appropriate, it seems, in modern times.

Q: You've faced setbacks that could have paralyzed you creatively. What gets you through that?

A: A kind of youthful point of view and a sense of hope. But some of the things I did did paralyze me creatively. I mean, I basically have not made a film for eight years, and why? That's an interesting question. Few filmmakers who become known for some great work do work later on in life that equals it. And why? Partly because everyone has a certain thing that they can do, and after they express it, unless they're William Shakespeare or Akira Kurosawa, it's not easy to reinvent yourself.

Q: I recall your saying that you were able to undertake some of the epic scenes in Apocalypse Now only because you were, in your words, stupid.

A: A young filmmaker has one quality that is very, very valuable, which is basically stupidity. He attempts things because he doesn't realize how impossible or dumb they are. The older filmmaker has the gift of wisdom-he knows that if he does this, that's going to happen. Of the two gifts, stupidity is better, because that means you're fearless. And it's hard to be fearless after you've been burned a few times.

Q: Do you ever find yourself saying "I want some of that stupidity back"?

A: Oh, I'm trying to get it back.

From the September 2005 issue of Details.

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